The rhapsody is a very special musical genre: its main principle being its lack of principles – unbound by any formal requirements, a composer can indulge himself, dream away, and be as poetic as he pleases. In 2007, 20,000 Berliner Philharmoniker fans were there to see Sir Simon Rattle conduct some of the best examples of the genre at the Berlin Waldbühne.
With rhapsodies seeming particularly suited to portrayals of countries and landscapes, this concert resembled a musical journey through Europe: the Slav Antonín Dvořák, the Romanian George Enescu and the Englishman Frederick Delius all sang the praises of their home countries, and in Claude Debussy’s Première Rapsody, the solo clarinet gives the piece an unmistakably French flavour. Emmanuel Chabrier and Sergei Rachmaninov, on the other hand, looked to foreign climes for their inspiration: Chabrier to Spain, while Rachmaninov combined the Italian fire of Paganini with his own native Russian melancholy.
Other artists appeared along with chief conductor Sir Simon Rattle on the podium: pianist Stephen Hough made his Philharmoniker debut in the Rachmaninov, and Wenzel Fuchs, the orchestra’s principal clarinettist, played Debussy’s Rapsody “with a wonderfully soft tone and telling precision,” said Berlin’s Kulturradio. And then there was a surprising change of conductor at the very end, during the inescapable encore Berliner Luft, when Sir Simon swapped places with the flautist Michael Hasel, who then brought the evening to an end from the conductor’s stand.